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Taxis


Have you used smartphone taxi apps?

A few years ago, the only way to get a taxi was to hail one on the street or call a phone number with sometimes-uncertain results. Now there are a wealth of smartphone-based options like Uber's UberTaxi, myTaxi, and Taxi Magic. Have you used them?


Left to right: Taxi Magic, Uber, and myTaxi renderings on iPhones.
Images from the app manufacturers.

UberTaxi

I've recently been trying out Uber's new UberTaxi service, which calls regular taxis rather than black car sedans. You can see how far away the nearest taxis are from the app, and easily request one.

The best elements of Uber's service are that the cabs are in very good shape, compared to many DC cabs, and when you get to your destination, you just step out without worrying about money at all. Uber emails a ride receipt with a map of your trip so you can be sure you weren't swindled.

I've used it 3 times, from home to a destination downtown, then back from downtown, and another late night from an area near downtown. Even though I could have often walked a few blocks to find a cab, using Uber the cab came right to me; only one time did the cab have any trouble, when I was at the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue) and he had to call to figure out which side of the building I was on. But he was easily able to call, so the Uber system clearly makes it simple to work out these kinds of confusions.

Uber charges an automatic 20% tip, though one driver I spoke to said Uber keeps all of that as their fee. Update: Erik Weber (now working for Uber) says this is incorrect, and 100% of the tip goes to the driver (though the driver does pay Uber an undisclosed amount).

UberTaxi is only available inside DC right now, while its original black cars can pick people up in the suburbs. There seems to be little reason not to pick the taxi mode over the sedan mode, unless you really want extra luxury or there aren't taxis around. (For example, on a recent trip to Uber's home of San Francisco, coming back to the hotel from the ballpark neighborhood, there were sedans but no taxis.)

Taxi Magic

When I need a taxi to National Airport, I've been using Taxi Magic, which lets you request a DC Yellow Cab, Arlington Red Top, Montgomery Barwood, or Alexandria Yellow Cab. You can also pay by credit card, though you take the step of paying from the cab (or pay the driver directly).

My experiences with DC Yellow Cabs via Taxi Magic were not so great, so I've been calling Red Tops instead, which work fine. Taxi Magic lets you request a cab for a time in the future, which is good for airport rides. The one thing that could be better is that when the taxi arrives ahead of time, as it often does (that's a good thing), the system calls you and you can press a key to tell the cab you're on your way out. But if the cab is 15 minutes early, it'll just keep calling every couple minutes.

myTaxi

myTaxi launched late last year; it is affiliated with car2go and has been doing cross-promotions for people to use both services.

I started to download the app but am uncomfortable with the fact that on Android, it wants access to all of my contacts. Android has dealt with security by making apps disclose which permissions they need, and you can choose to download the app or not. Unfortunately, a lot of apps need some fairly intrusive-seeming permissions for minor features of the app that you might never use.

There's no way to decline just one permission (and if you could, it might crash the apps unless developers always accounted for that possibility) and app developers don't have much incentive to provide a core app with few permissions and then separate add-ons you can download.

Have you tried myTaxi? What about Uber, Taxi Magic, or something else? How has the experience worked for you?

Taxis


DC taxi panel recommends solid red color

All taxis in the District of Columbia will be red by 2018 if the city adopts a recommen­dation from a DC Taxicab Commission committee, Martin Austermuhle reports.


Photo by kenjonbro on Flickr.

The commission had unveiled a number of more detailed designs in December to almost universal scorn. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who had written the legislation mandating a uniform color, said she had meant a single color, not some complex design.

Before the garish designs came out, many spoke in favor of the red color. After all, the Circulator is red, as are Capital Bikeshare bikes, and streetcars will be as well. Others worried that the sometimes bad experience of DC taxis might harm the brand identity of these other modes if taxis are also red.

Will Sommer writes that drivers of the "Yellow Cab" company don't like the idea because their cabs won't be yellow any more. The commission reportedly did not consider yellow as the universal color because of Yellow Cab. Would the company have preferred to have all taxis match its color or to have to paint its taxis something other than yellow?

Personally, I'm not sure we really needed a single color at all. It's not really hard to distinguish taxis today, and even if they're all red, people will have to differentiate them from solid red private cars. This feels more like regulating for the sake of regulating rather than to solve a specific problem, just like with the Uber situation.

If DC must have a single color, though, solid red is definitely better than the previous taxicab commission schemes. What do you think?

Taxis


Taxis will have credit card readers, and choice

You'll be able to use credit cards in DC taxis by March 30. Instead of one single credit card machine in all cabs, drivers will get the freedom to choose their own technology. But they'll still have to install an in-car display screen that regulators will choose; is that necessary?


Interactive screen in a NYC taxi. Photo by Aaron Landry on Flickr.

The DC Taxicab Commission (DCTC) went through a long bidding process to pick a single piece of technology to go in every taxi. This would take credit cards, show GPS information and ads (whose revenue the taxis would get a cut of), report taxi locations back to the DCTC, and more.

Verifone's bid won, and DCTC started requiring taxis to install Verifone's devices. But a challenge by rivals blocked the process, and on Friday the DCTC partly threw in the towel. Instead of forcing every cab to use Verifone's device, they are instead going to just require that every taxi accept credit cards in some way; the specific technology is up to the driver.

Ron Linton told the Post's Mike DeBonis that their approach changed because the marketplace changed:

"A year ago, when we came up with the 'smart meter' concept, it was a way to get credit cards and the other kind of technological things we wanted in the cabs quickly," he said. "We couldn't say, 'Do this,' because where would the drivers go? What would they get? Since then, there are six, seven, eight companies coming in here offering credit card services. .. They also are offering electronic reservations, which we want."
If the DCTC picks a single piece of technology, everyone's stuck with that choice, whether they made the best call or a bad one, and even if technology evolves.

In that case, doesn't this same logic apply to other features as well? DeBonis writes that Linton plans a new procurement for the system that will have "an interactive screen, GPS navigation and 'panic buttons' to hail authorities." Why should DCTC pick a single piece of technology to do this? Most of this is nice to have, but really not that central to a taxi rider's experience.

One argument for a centralized technology choice, which Councilmember Mary Cheh made when passing the original bill which mandated these credit card, GPS, interactive screen, and panic button systems (and a standard color scheme for taxis), is that taxi drivers are often not the most cutting-edge when it comes to technology. Plus, since most people pick taxis based on whichever one shows up rather than choosing a company ahead of time, there isn't really much incentive today for a taxi to install a better but more expensive system. It probably won't draw more riders.

Therefore, that thinking goes, drivers will just install cheaper systems that could work poorly or break down a lot, and DCTC would spend a lot of effort monitoring and inspecting them, when it could just pick one system and ensure a baseline of quality.

But this also closes the door to innovation and opportunities for different vendors to compete. Any contract will likely run for a number of years, during which the manufacturer will have little reason to add features or make the devices better.

DCTC could just mandate outcomes rather than means, as it's doing with the credit card readers. Drivers could just pick any screen vendor, so long as its display meets certain requirements, like showing the rider the current location and sending GPS data back to DCTC. Drivers can keep the advertising revenue as an incentive to install a screen.

On the other hand, this could mean an incentive for drivers to pick a screen that gives them the most money (maybe by being most intrusive with its ads) rather than being most useful for the rider.

What do you think is betterletting drivers pick their in-car screens, even if their incentives don't match the rider's, or having regulators pick it, which locks all cabs into a single technology for a long period of time?

Taxis


DC unveils 4 taxi livery options

DC has unveiled 4 options for a uniform citywide taxicab paint scheme. DCist's Martin Austermuhle is live-tweeting the presentation.

Here they are:


Photo by Martin Austermuhle.

Although it's not online yet, officials say there will be a survey on dctaxi.dc.gov asking for feedback. After that, the city will presumably pick a livery and set a timeline for adoption.

It's a little unclear, but while this shows both 4 liveries and 4 possible vehicle types, all vehicles will have the same livery.

What do you think? We have differing views.

Choose red for a consistent brand

by Dan Malouff

Back in 2009, I said that by not having a uniform color scheme, DC is losing out on an important branding opportunity. New York's yellow taxis are one of the strongest images associated with that city. Since DC has as many cabs per capita as New York, the same could be true here.

Red is the natural choice. We want something distinctly different from New York, and clearly associated with DC. Since red is already the primary color of DC Circulator, Capital Bikeshare, and the future DC Streetcars, it makes sense to use the same colors on taxis. Doing so evokes a uniform brand for the city's entire transportation system, across multiple modes.


Photo by Martin Austermuhle.

Two of the options released today use red. One of them, pictured here, uses the same shade as Circulator and Bikeshare, and includes a similar yellow stripe down the side. Of the 4 options, this is the best. But it would be better with red and white reversed, so that red is the dominant color.

Ideally I'd prefer a simple solid red, with maybe some yellow highlights. But since there are a lot of solid red private cars out there that aren't taxis (which isn't a problem for New York's yellow), I'm willing to concede that something a little more complex is necessary here. If we want red, it may need to be multi-colored.

Make it more professional, or choose none at all

by David Alpert

Dan is right that it's not a bad idea to evoke the Circulator and DC Streetcar branding. However, where the Circulator and streetcar are elegant, this looks amateurish.


Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

The Circulator and streetcar have delicate, curving yellow lines, while this has a thick, straight one. On those, the yellow line is the interface between red and white; here, the yellow line is its own separate piece with white between it and red, giving this far more interfaces between colors.

Dan is right that red and white is better than the other set of colors, yellow and green. That is Arlington Transit's color scheme; why should DC taxis look like Arlington buses?

Having the white on top means that from the front, most taxis will just look white, which defeats much of the purpose of giving them a uniform color. The Taxicab Commission could fix this one point by flipping red and white, as Dan suggests, but that won't make the design attractive.

I generally don't think we need a uniform brand at all. This push for a uniform color seems to be regulating for regulating's sake. If we are set on it, though, either the design has to look more professional, like the Circulator, or be much more simple, such as one color or two in a simple configuration.

Taxis


Cheh would limit regulation for Uber and taxi apps

"Sedan" cars like the ones the popular car service Uber uses, and any electronic apps that help people book either sedans or traditional taxis, would gain protection from most regulation under a proposal by Councilmember Mary Cheh.


Photo by Dkmelo on Flickr.

Cheh (ward 3), the chair of the committee that oversees transportation, released the "committee print" of her bill to legalize services like Uber. The committee will mark up the bill on Friday.

The bill, now entitled the Public Vehicle-for-hire Innovation Amendment Act of 2012, has a new section explicitly exempting most "digital dispatch services" from regulation by the DC Taxicab Commission. DCTC can still impose some requirements on "digital dispatch services," like Uber, Taxi Magic, Taxi Radar, or Hailo, but only for certain purposes:

  • Geography: Dispatch services can only use vehicles licensed in DC, or non-DC vehicles for trips to or from those other jurisdictions (a regional body, WMATC, which is totally different from WMATA, regulates these interstate trips.) However, DCTC also has to start licensing new drivers and vehicles.
  • Equity: The services and drivers will have to serve all parts of DC, and otherwise not discriminate against any passengers.
  • Receipts: Riders have to get an electronic or paper receipt after the trip. But unlike with the DCTC's proposed regulations, the service can choose; Uber, which gives everyone an electronic receipt, won't have to also add printers to every vehicle. Other services could use paper instead if they wished.
  • Transparent fares: Services will have to clearly tell riders about their pricing system, and give riders an estimate of the fare when they book. Uber doesn't do this now, but CEO Travis Kalanick said at the recent hearing that they were working on adding it already.
Services will also have to give DCTC regular data dumps of where their various trips started and ended, their times, etc. but no personal information about the rider. This could let DCTC better understand demand patterns, and perhaps they can ultimately release data files publicly, like Capital Bikeshare has done.

The bill does ban one current Uber practice: drivers rating passengers. Uber's system lets passengers give drivers a rating after their trip, which helps future passengers choose among drivers, but it also lets drivers rate their passengers. Cheh is concerned this could help drivers discriminate among passengers who want to go to unpopular locations, because of their background, or for other such reasons.

As for sedans, DCTC can regulate them to ensure they are safe or to protect consumers from fraud, but its regulatory power is otherwise limited. DCTC can also collect the same trip data from sedans. (They will get that data from taxis as well through the new electronic meters that recent legislation required for all taxis.)

Taxi companies would be able to operate both sedans and cabs, and drivers could even get a single license letting them drive both types of cars, but the cars themselves would remain separate. All taxis will be one uniform color beginning next summer, while sedans will remain black and more luxurious.

This keeps a strict separation between taxis, which are one type of vehicle that look one way and charge fixed rates, and sedans, whose rates aren't regulated. It means taxi companies can't start competing on value and raise prices, but it makes it more likely that the current taxi market remains largely as is while enabling services like Uber.

It also hopefully keeps the DCTC from going overboard with silly requirements for sedan services or taxi dispatch apps. These apps and services represent the best chance to bring new innovations and better service to potential riders.

I've reached out to Uber for comment about whether they support the bill, but hadn't yet heard back. I'll update this post if they respond.

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